Flem D. Sampson

Flem D. Sampson

Flemon Davis "Flem" Sampson (January 23, 1875 – May 25, 1967) was the 42nd Governor of Kentucky, serving from 1927 to 1931. He graduated from Valparaiso University in 1894, and opened a law practice in Barbourville, Kentucky. He formed a political alliance with future congressmen Caleb Powers and John Robsion, both prominent Republicans in the eastern part of the state. By 1916, he was serving on the Kentucky Court of Appeals—the state's highest court—having previously served as a county judge and circuit court judge. In 1923, he was elevated to chief justice of the Court of Appeals. He served until 1927, when he became the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

The Democrats nominated former governor and senator J. C. W. Beckham to challenge Sampson. The primary issue in the campaign was whether to outlaw parimutuel betting at the state's racetracks. Beckham favored the ban, while Sampson opposed it. A political machine known as the Jockey Club backed Sampson, and several key Democrats bolted the party after Beckham's nomination. Sampson won the governorship by over 32,000 votes, but every other Republican on the ticket lost by small majorities. The results suggested that some carefully coordinated vote swapping had occurred to ensure Beckham's defeat, but none was ever proven.

Sampson's term in office was a tumultuous one. The 1928 legislature was dominated by Democrats and was not particularly responsive to Sampson's proposals. After the session, Sampson was indicted for accepting gifts from textbook companies, but the charges were later dropped. In 1929, Sampson removed Democratic political boss Ben Johnson from his post as highway commissioner. When legislators reconvened in 1930, they retaliated by stripping Sampson of many of his appointment powers and reinstalling Johnson to his post. Later in the session, Sampson proposed to allow Samuel Insull to dam the Cumberland Falls to generate hydroelectric power. The General Assembly instead voted to accept an offer from T. Coleman du Pont to purchase the falls and turn them into a state park. The Assembly voted to further restrict Sampson's powers in 1930. The end of Sampson's term was complicated by the economic realities of the Great Depression. He called out the Kentucky National Guard to quell a violent mine strike in Harlan County known as the Battle of Evarts. Following his term, Sampson returned to Barbourville and was re-elected as a circuit court judge. He died May 25, 1967 and was buried in Barbourville Cemetery.

Read more about Flem D. Sampson:  Early Life, Political Career, Ancestors

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